Friday, September 9, 2016

1. The Plan

The summer of 2015 was a break-through season for me. I had been injured all winter, working on grad school, my only exercise was the hangboard. When summer rolled around I was not in very good shape, but my grip strength was finally decent. As soon as I had some time off I went up to Washington and climbed Clean Break (1500 feet, 5.10c) my first 5.10 "alpine" route. I made three trips to the North Cascades and a trip to the Sierra that summer. By the end of it I was back in shape and had climbed quite a few classic alpine rock routes in the 5.10 range. I had also done my first "wall," Liberty Crack (grade V, 5.10 C1), in a day. I felt like the world of climbing was my oyster, I could do whatever I wanted, maybe not fast, maybe not easily, maybe not well, but I believed I could figure it out.
Top: approaching Liberty Crack. Bottom: aiding through the Lithuanian Lip on Liberty Crack. Both pictures by Nick Mestre

So that winter I decided that this was the year to "go big." I wanted to take my climbing to that mystical other-world of "real alpinism," where everything is so big and gnarly that you can't even fathom it, where the pictures from your trip are so good they look like they belong in magazines, and where the climbing is just so ridiculous that the resulting annihilation of your own flesh guarantees that you will achieve spiritual enlightenment... assuming you survive, of course.

Since I was going to become a "real alpinist," I decided I better do those things that alpinists do. I started following a training plan I made with the help of the illustrious Steve House's book, "Training for the New Alpinism." I went ice climbing, something that is somewhat hard to find in Oregon, and planned a trip to Hyalite Canyon in Montana. I also applied to the American Alpine Club for a grant (Nobody gets those right? But I should at least try.").

Some "ice climbing" on Mt. Hood in April, 2016.

For my grant application, and my grand summer of "alpinism," I chose the Waddington Range as the theater for my alpine shenanigans. This mountain range is the highest, and supposedly most magnificent part, of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia in Canada. It has some of the hardest and longest alpine routes on the continent, but you can reach the heart of the range in 30 minutes by helicopter after driving less distance than a trip Ouray. The mountains themselves, barely topping 13,000 feet, posed no altitude acclimatization issues, and there was even a guide book! What could possibly go wrong?

Knowing that I was pretty much capable of anything, I decided that my main goal should be the Southeast Ridge of Mount Asperity. This objective shut down some of the best North American alpinists before two really strong Brits who had climbed basically everything in the Alps came over and did it. They graded this 1600m tall buttress of chossy rock 5.10 A1 WI3. It took them three days and 65 pitches to reach the top. After which, the only way they could figure out to get off the darn thing was by traversing the entire Serra group, which Don Serl (the guy who wrote the guidebook for the range) described as the crux of the famous Waddington Traverse that he established with Peter Croft and Greg Foweraker in 1985. These British crushers also decided to give the Southeast Ridge of Asperity the European alpine grade of ED2+ for overall difficulty and commitment. To put this in perspective, ED2+ (short for extremely difficult, but a level above that and then a plus sign for a little more) is a notch above the original route on the North Face of the Eiger which only gets a straight ED2. But seriously, Ueli Steck has soloed that route in under two and a half hours, so I figured an ED2+ shouldn't be that bad.

The Southeast Ridge of Asperity is the main buttress in this photo that starts out of the frame. Shot from the helicopter.

Of course I didn't really expect to get the grant, and deep down inside I didn't even expect to go to the Waddington at all. I hadn't lined up anyone to split the chopper with, or even a partner. I'd never flown to a climbing area. I'd never done any "real alpine climbing" in my life, at least when compared to the Wadd. But what are dreams for, if not so you at least try? I submitted the grant, went to Hyalite, slogged through my weekly training workouts and figured that at the very least I would be super fit and motivated for a summer of climbing wherever I ended up.